Maybe you’re here because you’ve tried lots of other methods for treating trauma, anxiety, relationship struggles or self-esteem issues and didn’t see the results you needed. You may struggle with feeling easily overwhelmed or totally shut down. Either way you have a sense that the hard stuff from your childhood may be getting in the way of becoming the joyful and grounded person you want to be.
Co-Regulating Touch or Transforming Touch are somatic touch approaches designed to work at the nervous system level for helping clients heal from early childhood or developmental trauma. Created by Kathy Kain and Stephen Terrel, authors of Nurturing Resilience, Co-regulating Touch “aims to more effectively responding to people whose bodies and spirits have been altered by developmental trauma and attachment difficulties.”
What is Co-Regulation?
Co-regulation refers to how we adjust ourselves when interacting with another, in order to maintain a regulated or balanced nervous system state. To reach a state of regulation while in relationship with others, mutual adjustments/agreements of actions and intentions need to be met. Co-regulation happens organically between people; actions and interactions are influenced but not controlled by another’s actions and is a result of each participant repeatedly regulating the behavior of the other.
Co-regulation happens naturally between a parent and child when we are very, very small. It’s the way parents know how soothe their child, meet their physical needs and show of for their child with appropriate emotional responses. When parents exhibit what are called “coo behaviors,” or behaviors that express love, care, and affection towards the child, also known as emotional attunement, the child then feels calmed.
For a child to develop optimally, emotional attunement along with meeting a child’s basic needs of food and shelter helps to create healthy co-regulation and secure attachment between parent and child. These verbal, non-verbal, and touch-based interactions between the ages of 0 to 10 help create an early map for the nervous system. For a child, consistent and reliable emotional attunement in a nurturing environment sets the stage for a well-regulated and healthy nervous system as an adult. The benefits to the adult with an optimally developed nervous system includes curiosity, creativity, generosity, resilience, healthy social skills, and more.
But What If There is Trauma Instead?
Absence or inconsistency of these parent-child interactions can have adverse effects that follow us for the rest of our lives. Without these foundational emotional cues and experiences that help the child to feel safe, they often lack the ability to self-regulate emotions and appropriately adjust their behavior. Additionally, the nervous system gets patterned into “survival physiology” which often looks like anxiety, depression and/or a deep sense of disconnection from self or other.
A lack of co-regulation could be the result of childhood trauma like abuse, neglect or abandonment. Other issues not related to maltreatment such as birth trauma, medical conditions, long absences of a parent through military duty or illness, poverty and even mental illness or disease where the parents are still present, but experiencing their own struggles as well; are contributing factors to lack of co-regulation and insecure attachment.
One way to determine if you suffered from adverse childhood experiences is to take the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) Questionnaire. The higher your score, the more likely that your nervous system didn’t have the opportunity to develop optimally and the more likely you will struggle with health issues, mood disorders, unhealthy relationships and low self-esteem.
These traumas are often so deep-rooted that most forms of talk therapy can only scratch the surface. This where Co-regulating Touch comes into play.
What to Expect From A Coregulating Touch Session
During your first session, we begin with taking a “body record” to get a picture of your overall physical functioning. Typically, we’ll ask questions about your nutrition, movement practices (activity level),any recent accidents, chronic condition, etc. This is an important part of somatic therapy because trauma isn’t just a mental/emotional issue.
Before getting on the table, your therapist will first do a verbal check-in with you, finding out how your body feels in the moment and what is happening or has happened in your body and life since your last session. Then, we’ll have you lie face-up on a massage table to begin the therapeutic touch part of your session. You will always remain fully clothed and we will be asking for consent to touch you.
Co-Regulating Touch begins with holding the kidneys, brain stem, and ankles. This therapeutic touch is passive, meaning that the practitioner will not move their hands around like a massage therapist would. From time to time, your therapist will invite you to notice any changes you notice inside your body. You may talk or lie quietly when you are on the table.
Touch work is meant to be a no-demands experience for the client; you simply get to BE while your nervous system gets regulated. By physically connecting to you with intention, we can start to re-balance your system and begin the healing process at the nervous system level.
The goal is to increase resilience and balance in your nervous system and, at the same time, help you develop what we call a “safety map:” an embodied feeling of safety and ease that you can name as sensation, impulse, emotion, changes in behavior, meaning shifts, and physiological changes.
Maybe you’re curious about somatic trauma therapy and Co-Regulating Touch, but you still have questions…
Why would Co-regulating Touch be able to help me when talk therapy didn’t?
When you deal with early childhood trauma, talking about the issues isn’t helpful because the healing needs to take place at the biological, nervous system level. Developmental trauma happens in a preverbal, non-cognitive state (from age 0-3) and these first years of life are crucial for the development of everything that makes up the nervous system: the brain, spinal cord, and nerve endings.
When things are not ideal in childhood, the nervous system can’t develop optimally. It’s like your nervous system is built on a house of cards—an insecure foundation. As a result, you can’t be as resilient as you want to be, or it’s hard for you to feel connected in everyday life and experience joy and a sense of peace. Somatic-based Co-Regulating Touch helps heal childhood trauma because it strengthens your nervous system from the ground up, creating a stronger foundation at the nervous system level.
Why do you focus on the kidneys and the brainstem as touchpoints?
The brainstem is the first part of the brain that develops in utero when a baby is growing inside the womb—it’s primal. And the adrenal system manages your stress response and sits right atop the kidneys. When you’re in a state of arousal as your body responds to an event, your biological system pumps out cortisol and adrenaline, two key stress hormones. Early childhood trauma negatively impacts the kidney adrenal system and the brainstem from effectively functioning.
When we hold the kidneys and the brainstem, it allows us to address the major parts of the regulatory system in your body. The idea is that by touching the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA), we encourage your nervous system to do what it knows how to do innately— come into balance.
What if I don’t want you to touch me?
Everything we do is collaborative and consent-based. We will never touch you if you don’t want that. If you’re feeling uncomfortable, we’ll stop as soon as you tell us.
We will also help you to be ready for table work (the Co-Regulating Touch phase of therapy) in a paced-out, gentle way. And you will be in charge of that pacing (not us!) because we want you to feel safe continuing the treatment.
How long will therapy take?
This isn’t a question easily answered because every person’s situation is different. We usually ask you to give us a minimum of four sessions to experience something different happening in you life and body and then decide if you’d like to continue.
If you do, the course of treatment is typically long-term (6 months or longer) especially when issues are connected to early childhood trauma. If you are curious how Co-Regulating Touch Therapy can help heal your deep childhood traumas and set you on an emotionally-healthy path for the rest of your life, schedule your first session!
You Can Heal From Trauma
If you are curious how Co-Regulating Touch Therapy can help you heal from trauma and set you on an emotionally-healthy path for the rest of your life, schedule your first session!
There is so much love for you here!